Thursday, February 27, 2014


This was the scene at Heathrow this morning as Rosa Klebb lookalike German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in the UK.   The conversation at Passport Control may well have gone like this:-

"Name, please."

"Angela Merkel."




"No, I`m just here for the day!"


So, Chelsea managed to draw 1-1 away in Istanbul last night - always a difficult place to go.  In recent days, the Special One has more or less blamed his strikers for the team`s lack of goals.  Which at first glance seems reasonable enough; after all they are the ones whose job it is to bury the ball in the back of the net in return for which they receive shedloads of wonga.

But then it is the job of Jose Mourinho and all the other managers and coaches to get the best out of the players in their charge.   Now most of Mourinho`s fellow Premier League managers at least take responsibility for any failings by their teams.  Why, even David Moyes (for whom I feel an illogical increasing sympathy) had the grace to hold his hand up when the damned United got stuffed in Athens the other evening.   But the Chelsea boss, he`s different.

Someone - I can`t for the life of me remember who - once described the art of delegation as taking the credit when things go well and blaming others when they don`t.   I wonder who they had in mind.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I confess to very seldom acting on impulse.  Perhaps as a box-to-box midfield dynamo for Maidstone Dolphins, with a good engine and an eye for a pass, I may have acted more on instinct than impulsiveness....and there is a difference, of course.  

Something else I seldom do is impulse buying - I suppose it comes from being a `needer` rather than a `wanter,` so when I think I need to invest in something new I can spend ages researching stuff, reading reviews, inspecting the options.  For some months now I`ve quite fancied the idea of upgrading my camera and I`ve bought the magazines, been round the shops, read all the reviews and, so far, haven`t made up my mind as to which one to go for.   By which time, of course, new models have appeared on the market, technology has moved on and so I`m still using the camera I always have as bewilderment and uncertainty have taken their toll.

But just in the last few days, I have surprised myself.  After months of wet, dark, miserable, depressing winter, I felt the need for a change scenery and after a swift consultation with Mrs. Snopper and Barney our Retriever (who still doesn`t retrieve) I got on the phone and booked the only week left until October in the haven of reason and tranquillity that is the Roseland on the south coast of Cornwall.   

The pace of life down there can be summed up by the booking procedure with the holiday cottage company:-  

"Well, with the dog as well, that comes to £301, sir."

"Hang on a minute, I`ll get my debit card," I said.

"Sorry, sir, we don`t do cards.  If you can put a cheque in the post that will be fine."

.....and so, Royal Mail permitting, we`ll be off back to Rosevine again in a week or two and despite having been there time and again, I find it hard to keep my excitement in check.

Now my first reaction to this episode was that it was pretty much out of character for me to do something so impetuously, so suddenly, without giving it too much thought.  I worried whether, just for once, I had actually made an impulse purchase;  but I think it may really have been an act of sheer desperation.   Not just to escape the noise of the south east, the noise of politics, of world events, of unsocial media and all the rest of what laughingly constitutes living in in this mad world, but really to reconnect with the sanity, the charm and wonder that I find in that quiet undemanding corner of the south-west.

So I guess I`ve settled for desperation....and kept impulsiveness for another day.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Some of my friends and family live within the Parliamentary Constituency of Maidstone and the Weald (MATW) and I hope they won`t think me patronising but I really do have some sympathy with them.   First, they had the pugnacious, stentorian charms of Ann Widdecombe as their Member of Parliament who, despite being mercifully put out to grass in deepest Devon, is still miffed with Dave Cameron for not making her Baroness Widdecombe.

Since the last election, the constituency is rumoured to have been represented by one Helen Grant, late of the Labour Party and parachuted into the Tory stronghold of MATW courtesy of the discredited `A` list system which pretty much guaranteed an election victory provided you were feminine and of ethnic background.  Mrs. Grant duly won the seat for the Tories despite reducing the majority to unhealthy proportions.

Mrs. Grant`s track record can perhaps be best described as unprepossessing, with issues about her expenses, her less than impressive stint as Minister for Justice and now her increasingly shambolic  tenure as Minister for Sports, Equalities and Tourism - a title in itself that anyone with a penchant for mischief could make much of.   No matter, her failure to answer pretty routine sporting questions a few weeks ago has now been compounded by her pronouncements concerning women`s participation in sport.    In a garbled attempt to encourage women to take up more sports, Mrs. Grant declared, "There are some wonderful sports you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating." 

Now in the last couple of weeks, I assume in her capacity as Minister for Sport, etc., Mrs. Grant has been to Sochi for the Winter Olympics not just once but twice.  Nevertheless, and in a desperate effort to be charitable towards her, I`m quite certain that on those taxpayer funded jaunts she not only gave thought to new sports and pass-times to encourage women - downhill ironing, for example, or even slalom shopping -  but also dwelt on the desperate plight of her constituents struggling along in Yalding waist deep in water.

The good electors of Maidstone and The Weald must be truly grateful for how well they are represented by Mrs. Grant and her flights of fancy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


For well over ten years now - such is the depth of my superficiality - I have belonged to an on line forum devoted to all things concerning Southampton Football Club.   Now my Collins English Dictionary defines `forum` as "meeting or medium for open discussion or debate."  Sounds simple enough.

When it started all those years ago, the forum was what it was supposed to be - a vehicle for the exchange of views and opinions which led not only to healthy debate but, surprisingly, a catalyst for real friendships to be formed which persist to this day.   The most useful point about those early exchanges was that the contributions to the forum were either from those who had actually attended the games, home or away, or from Saints followers in distant lands who were unable to do so.

I think too that the forum was more representative of the true fans who had stuck with the club all the time it was struggling with financial problems, administrations, capricious management, back-to-back relegations and thus habitual nervousness.  Since the return to the Premier League, (The best league in the world (TM)) the stands at St. Mary`s Stadium have seen the return of those stay-away `fans` for whom life in the lower reaches of the Football League held no kudos to prop up their insecurities.  

It always strikes me as odd that football fans seem to be divided between those who are genuine supporters and those who are attracted to a bandwagon which provides them with a cache to swagger into the rest of their lives.   Consequently, with a few exceptions, the forum has now become the preserve of those who are slow to bless and extremely quick to chide.   And yesterday`s 3-1 defeat away at West Ham provided the perfect excuse for rants to appear demanding the head of the manager, an end to Rickie Lambert`s place in the team and general disillusionment with the way the team is selected and playing.  

Such reactions are really quite extraordinary and totally unacceptable.   Last time I looked (about an hour ago) Southampton were lying eighth in the Premier League with any thought of relegation a distant memory.  In yesterday`s game they had 70% of the possession, 25 shots on goal to West Ham`s 10 and 11 corners to West Ham`s 5.   The only thing wrong was that West Ham scored three against Saints` one - the only statistic that matters, of course.   But the team are playing well, enjoying a good season but having a blip when it comes to burying the ball in the back of the net.

A few hardy souls have suggested this reality on the forum but in doing so have incurred the wrath of the WUMs, the self-appointed ITKs and those for whom a result like yesterday`s constitutes then end of their sad world.  It`s like BBC Radio Five Live`s 606 but writ large.  Some people really do need to get a life.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I can`t comment too much on the Rebekah Brooks et al court case as it`s ongoing, sub-judice and all the rest of it. But just two words from her e-mail to James Murdoch, given in evidence yesterday, triggered a whole series of memories.   The words were, of course, "Hutton style," referring to the Inquiry by Lord Hutton into the death of David Kelly and immediately that reference not only raised again the scepticism, not to say cynicism, of all matters concerning Blair and his entourage but it also nudged the memory stick into wondering whatever happened to the Chilcot Inquiry into the run-up to and conduct of the Iraq War.

Now this Inquiry has been going on since on was first established by, of all people, Gordon Brown getting on for five years ago; it took ages to hear all the witnesses and has been bogged down ever since over the reluctance of Whitehall mandarins to agree the release of `communications` between Blair and Bush as well as some Cabinet papers. Moreover, the Inquiry`s final report has also been confounded by the process known as "Maxwellisation," whereby witnesses are privately sent previews of any criticisms made about them and then invited to comment.

And so it goes on.  It`s over ten years now since the Hutton report was published and with Chilcot`s supposedly being released `later this year,` the grass has grown even longer and a once baying public may by now have lost at least some of their interest. And yet there may be some hope for a positive outcome.   Despite Chilcot himself being yet another Whitehall mandarin, it seems inconceivable after all this time, all that money, all that effort and all the ducking and weaving that another whitewash will be tolerated.   I just hope it will have been worth the wait.   

Monday, February 17, 2014


No surprise really that my choice for today is the photo above showing Sir Tom Finney CBE, OBE, about to take a corner much to the obvious joy of Deepdale schoolboys surrounding the pitch and admiring the exploits of a genuine local hero.  No fences, no `foul and abusive language,` no tribal chanting, not a sign of any trouble. Why, you can almost smell the Dubbin and hear the sound of rattles and cloth caps being waved. A distant memory, another era and yet one that was blessed with the likes of Tom Finney - Preston born and bred and a plumber by trade - 433 games for his home town club, scoring 187 goals, along with 76 caps for England and 30 goals - and all after serving his country in the Second World War in the Eighth Army campaigns in North Africa and Italy. 

And all for a maximum wage of just £14 a week.   It`s always sad, of course, to lose yet another from those bygone days and, with the passing of heroes like Sir Tom and last week the Glamorgan cricketer Bernard Hedges, also sad to lose a little more of the feel for and the personal identity with those long ago times.   In the many tributes to Sir Tom there have been constant references to his modesty, his honesty, his charm and of course, his supreme skill and sportsmanship.  

On the day that Tom Finney`s death was announced, a snippet from the parallel universe of modern day football revealed that Wayne Rooney is to be offered a new contract at Manchester United that will bring his wages up to £300,000 a week for five years.   I think I know which of the two represented value for money, not just on the field of play but also in those other areas of life by which we are judged.

Friday, February 14, 2014

...and they said...

...that we English weren`t much good at music and we certainly couldn`t sing.   Well, Sir Edward Elgar, inspired by his beloved Malvern Hills, was one of the great composers.   And in the choir of New College, Oxford, we have sublime voices.   Put them both together and you get this truly wonderful interpretation of Elgar`s Lux Aeterna, the choral version of Nimrod from the Enigma Variations.........

.....just shows how wrong they were.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


So, Chancellor George Osborne has ruled out the Scots keeping the pound in the event that they vote to leave the United Kingdom.   I imagine they`ll now have to come up with an independent currency of their own - quite possibly The Jock?

But this episode again highlights the consequences of change and it leads me to wonder where all this might lead to.  For example, if the Scots do leave the UK, I wonder how long it will be before Cymru, Kernow and even Kent, where the Cantii have their stronghold, all vote to leave as well, resulting in Northern Ireland remaining in an increasingly fragile wedlock with what will then truly be a Little England.  All the hallmarks of history, with yet another dominating world empire crumbling into final obscurity.  We shouldn`t be surprised - it`s happened before, time and again.

I`m guessing of course but I imagine any reduced United Kingdom could well come to pass before any promised referendum about the UK`s continued membership of the European Union, given that successive governments have reneged on their manifesto promises of a referendum for half a century. So what if UKIP wins a sizeable and growing representation in forthcoming elections? The logical conclusion must surely be that the United Kingdom will eventually leave Europe or be booted out by the new European Empire.  

It all reminds me of other changes - those brought about not by politics or the inevitability of history but by the sheer pace and complexity of man made change.  I`m not talking about climate change here - that`s a whole different debate - but about the ever increasing speed of technological change and communication.   Life in the so-called developed world becomes yet more `advanced` to the point where it`s impossible (at least for duffers like me) to keep pace with it.   

And I wonder again where all this speed of change is leading. Surely there must come a tipping point where further `advancement` becomes impossible, leading to another logical conclusion that, at that point, things may not only stand still but, like Portsmouth Football Club, actually go backwards in a relentless decline, perhaps inevitably leading to a return to a kind of League Two existence.   

I really don`t want to get off just yet, but it might be a good idea to stop the world so we might come to our senses?

Monday, February 10, 2014


I greeted the announcement of the death of Bernard Hedges not just with sadness at the passing of yet another boyhood hero but also it seemed to me to signal yet again the passing of those days when quiet, unassuming sportsmen went about their business shunning the limelight and, like Bernard, keeping their undoubted talent almost to themselves.  Those were the days before any unsocial media and perhaps the only image rights that came Bernard`s way were via the cards which, as a boy, I garnered from packets of Turf cigarettes discarded by a school chum`s father.

They were also the days before the up-market, up-tempo, commercially driven extravaganzas that diminish the spirit of cricket today and which are a far cry from the minimal exposure of the exploits of Bernard and his Glamorgan team mates.  Indeed, I remember picking up snippets about Bernard and other heroes - Harold Gimblett, Derek Shackleton, Horace Hazell, Vic Cannings and all those others - brought to life by the Basingstoke burr of John Arlott on our crackly Cossor radio.

Bernard Hedges left us peacefully on Saturday at the age of 86 from his home in the Mumbles, Swansea.  He had an 18-year career in first class cricket, amassing nearly 18,000 runs with 21 centuries in his 422 appearances for Glamorgan.   He wrote his name into the club`s record books in 1963 by scoring the county`s first ever century in a one-day game with an unbeaten 103 as well as taking two wickets and two catches against Somerset in their Gillette Cup match at Cardiff Arms Park.   Moreover, when the cricket season came to an end, he excelled too at Rugby, playing for Swansea RFC after playing for Pontypridd whilst still at school.

And so another hero of my youth leaves us quietly - perhaps too quietly for he and others like him deserve to be remembered more widely - and with him goes yet another from those quieter times, from those days of boyhood innocence and from a world that faded all too quickly.

Sunday, February 09, 2014


This week`s footy round-up has a sadly poignant ring to it.  But first, congratulations to Mr. Slightly`s ever improving Gillingham who made the 700-mile round trip to Carlisle and came away with another three points after a spirited 2-1 victory to see them climb to 11th in the League One table.   Over the moon next door yet again.

As for my Saints, well, they were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Stoke City, now managed by former Saint Mark Hughes and so retain their ninth place in the Premier League. There are reports this morning that `the big guns` are once again looking to pounce for some of our young stars emerging from the Academy.    Manchester United and Chelsea want Luke Shaw, Liverpool are after Jay Rodrigues and Arsenal, not content with nicking Theo Walcott and Alex Oxtail-Chamberlain, are eyeing up Callum Chambers.   What really gets to me is the appalling arrogance of these `big clubs` who seem to feel they are entitled to make such overtures on the assumption that clubs like Southampton will just roll over and let it happen.   

But the most disheartening news this week comes from Bristol City.   In the week, they played Coventry City at home and lost 2-1.   But just before the final whistle, our street`s hero Scott Wagstaff suffered a nasty shoulder injury which not only kept him out of yesterday`s game but is likely to see him sidelined for six weeks or so. Here`s a short video of the incident:-  

A nasty collision resulting in fact that the medical experts have instructed him not to mark any future goals he might score by performing his trademark celebration - The Brick!  Now this is a serious business, not just for Scott and his shoulder but also for the future of The Brick.   The Bristol City fans will doubtless be sick as parrots although, like the rest of Waggy`s anxious public, they will not only wish him well for a full and speedy recovery but also be intrigued as to what contortion might in future take The Brick`s place.  

I suggest that bulletins should be posted on the railings of Ashton Gate to keep us posted on Scotty`s progress and prepare us for his next celebratory wheeze.

Friday, February 07, 2014

They`re at it already.  The other evening a news programme was cut short for a Party Political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.  Up pops Nick Clegg but instead of going on about the real issues of the day, not least the flooding, he ranted on about how stupid and short sighted we would all be to vote for UKIP at the forthcoming European Elections.  It would be bad for the economy, bad for Britain`s place in the great scheme of things, bad for jobs and, you name it, it would be bad.  Rather we should vote for the Lib Dems who would ensure that the economy was successful, unemployment a thing of the past and everything would be simply wonderful.

Today, Dave Cameron has been going on about how awful it would be if the Scots voted to leave the Union in their upcoming referendum.   Bad for their economy, bad for jobs, bad for Scotland to be cast adrift in an uncertain future.  Instead, they should vote to stay as part of the United Kingdom thus ensuring a splendidly secure and prosperous future.

Now I don`t know about you, but I get tired of being preached at, talked down to, told what I should do and how I should think.   I simply don`t believe Cameron believes himself what he is saying;  rather I suspect he wouldn`t mind if the Scots said `Goodbye,` and left him just about fireproof in future elections, given the majority Conservative vote in England and the disappearance in the Westminster parliament of so many Scottish Labour seats.

As for Nick Clegg, I`ve never really come to terms with the fact that someone whose party came a poor third in the last election can apparently hold so much sway in terms of policy making and political influence and thus feel entitled to start telling us what he thinks we should all be doing.  I wonder if they and their ilk realise that the more they adopt these headmasterly poses, the more they alienate the electorate.

And so, given my own innate curmudgeonliness, my deep rooted cynicism of all things political and my penchant for minor rebellion, I will ignore the sermons of these preacher men and draw upon my natural reactions by doing the exact  opposite of what they are imploring me to do ....and hope the Scots do the same.  It may be irresponsible...but at least it`s honest.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


In 1960, the fourth of February was a Thursday and it`s one of those dates, like Christmas or family birthdays, that seems to be hard wired onto my memory stick.   For that was the day I was conscripted into my 731 days of National Service;  the day I had left `home` and made the perilous journey all the way oop north to Richmond in Yorkshire and thence by 3-ton truck to Bourlon Barracks, Catterick Camp.  It`s odd, but after all these 54 years on, I still have vivid memories of those first few daunting hours spent at Her Majesty`s pleasure.

Having been pitchforked out of the 3-ton truck, the first thing I knew was that I didn`t really have a name any more.  "You, lad," seemed to be the address barked at me most and it reached the stage whereby whenever I was asked "You, lad, what`s your `orrible spewy name?" I could barely remember it.   Not helped by the fact that we were all given numbers - mine was 23762053 (you see, I still remember it even now) - and this number had to be attached to each and every item of kit thrown at us in the Quartermasters Stores - boots, battledress, denims, beret, mugs (enamel,) irons (eating for the use of,) brasses, gaiters and all the other paraphernalia of military life. 

There were a number of problems here;  for example, coming to terms with things being described backwards;  and then no-one knew what gaiters were for, what useful purpose they served apart from boosting sales of blanco. And our army numbers had to be stamped on any metal, leather or wooden items such as tins (mess)  or brushes (boot) - and each barrack room was issued with a set of stamps and a hammer so these items could be clearly marked.  Trouble was, the set of stamps in our room had one of the numbers missing, so my brushes (boot) for example had only seven of the required eight numbers. I still have those brushes now, but such was their infringement of Queen`s Regulations that they were instantly declared `idle.`   Truly, even on day one, the contradiction in terms that is military intelligence had already made its mark.

And so the first, long, arduous, bewildering day drew to a close and I was to discover things in the weeks to come in that northern outpost of Catterick that are still vividly recalled - verbal abuse, physical exertion, weary acceptance of one`s fate and an introduction to heroic profanity which, because of its constant use, soon became obsolete as a form of expression. 

Oh well, there were only another 730 days to do.......

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Well, the spotlight has once again fallen on Philip Seymour Hoffman.   Now I thought it was just me who, until yesterday, had never heard of him but my rare sojourn into the parallel universe of F***book has revealed at least one other dinosaur had never heard of him either.   By all accounts, Hoffman`s professional career was hugely successful and it seemed right for the spotlight to have shone on his theatrical and cinematic talents.  I`m sorry I missed them.  Maybe I should get out more.

But now the light has shone on the manner of his leaving this troubled world and his loss has been met with an outpouring of grief, especially from the theatrical luvvies - perhaps the most toe-curling of which appeared on last night`s edition of Newsnight when we were treated to an outstanding performance from Richard Curtis.  

For me though, whilst I mourn the loss of any life - and I stand back and await condemnation for daring to make this suggestion - anyone with three children who is found dead with a syringe in their arm in an apartment in which 70 `packets` of heroin have been found along with stacks of prescription drugs, has committed perhaps the ultimate act of self indulgence.

Perhaps the spotlight should be aimed at that rather than anything else?

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Time to celebrate an extremely rare occurrence. Yesterday, the Saints went to Craven Cottage and demolished a poor Fulham side 3-0 with goals from England trio Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodrigues. There is indeed only one `F` in Fulham.

Meanwhile in the West Country, Bristol City not only came back from a goal down against Carlisle to win 2-1 but in the process climbed out of the relegation zone in League One thanks largely, I imagine, to the return of Snopper Street local hero Scott Wagstaff, happily recovered from a niggling hamstring problem.

And at Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham saw off Port Vale with a 3-2 victory over determined opposition to see my neighbour Mr. Slightly adopt a rare over the moon posture.   

In the lower reaches of League Two, low riding plucky minnows P***smouth suffered a home defeat to Torquay United, thus maintaining their flirtation with relegation out of the Football League and to round off a perfick day, Manchester United lost again, this time to Stoke City.   Deep joy all round - I could almost forgive England`s cricketers.....